Security personnel guard the accident site at Nengkol in South Garo Hills on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos
Nengkol (South Garo Hills), July 11: Twelve-year old Persus S. Marak was at home baby-sitting his three-year old brother when he heard an uproar from below, where the coal quarry was in operation.
“I ran down and found one elderly man being brought up in the box...he seemed to be injured, but after that no one was brought out,” Marak told The Telegraph this afternoon, making a cup of tea for himself while carrying out his daily routine of keeping a watchful eye on his little brother.
“I don’t think anyone is alive down there,” he said almost sorrowfully, but with an age-belying sense of conviction.
But that is not what the administration thinks. According to the official stance, 15 labourers were feared to be still trapped inside the quarry while a similar number had just about managed to come out just before the quarry was flooded.
In private, they are more than convinced that whoever has been stuck there under the water since Friday afternoon could no longer be possibly alive.
As for the direct stakeholders in the highly lucrative coal trade in this region, an activity that has often come under attack for the unscientific “rat hole” mining that pays no heed to the life and limb of the labourers, the spirit of omerta appears to bind them together, even if not in its classical Sicilian mafia sense.
“The muhuri (clerk) told us he could not find only two or three labourers among those who had come out,” said a staff of Gurdeep Singh, who was running the quarry after getting the approval of the nokma (head of a particular area), Kudan A. Sangma, who owns that particular plot of land.
He, however, squirms a bit when asked if the muhuri did believe that then why did he and the sardar (labour leader) have to flee. (The sardar was finally arrested today along with Gurdeep Singh.)
Besides, he also quoted the muhuri to say that he had left behind the notebook in which he had entered the names of the labourers in the quarry. The implication of this error of ommission or commission is that it will never be known exactly how many labourers were actually down there when the flooding happened.
Here in these parts, labourers are also counted in terms of boxes. “There were two boxes of labourers who came out, so we think not many more could be down there,” the staff said, even as behind him one such box did sorties to the well of the quarry carrying a few labourers who were engaged for supervising the water pumping work.
A young adult at 18, Moshidul was one of those doing the sorties. “We are trying to pump out the water into the river,” he said pointing at the lazily flowing discharge destination a few metres away from the well head.
According to him, it could take a few more days to clear the quarry of water.
“There is a lot of water still there,” he said, adding he was not sure whether water from the surrounding quarries was still getting into the one where the accident took place.
While there is no confirmed reason as to how the quarry got flooded, Moshidul and others suspect water from some other quarries nearby could have gushed in.
“When we go about cutting the earth below horizontally for coal, we can also run into another quarry and get connected,” Moshidul explained.
They suspect at least four quarries have thus got interconnected and water from an abandoned one had got into the others.
The larger Nangalbibra coal mining area, which includes Nengkol, is actually sitting on a network of trenches into which the labourers get in every day spreading out all the time in various directions at the first hint of the black diamond.
Just like rats do.